Mark Dreyfus accuses federal Coalition leaders of ‘complete silence’ on neo-Nazis in parliamentary clash
The attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, has accused the Coalition’s federal leadership of failing to condemn neo-Nazis who attended an anti-trans rally amid fiery scenes in federal parliament on Tuesday.
The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, did not weigh in on the fate of Victorian Liberal MP Moira Deeming, whose proposed expulsion has become a test for the authority of the Victorian Liberal leader, John Pesutto. Deeming has denied any wrongdoing.
However, he did join bipartisan condemnation of Nazi glorification. The Coalition are concerned about how to manage fallout from the event, with some Liberals, including senator Alex Antic, defending Deeming. The scrap in question time comes ahead of the controversial UK gender activist Kellie-Jay Keen’s planned visit to Canberra on Thursday.
On Saturday, a group of anti-transgender activists clashed with pro-transgender rights activists outside Victoria’s parliament after an event held by Keen. A group of about 30 men from the National Socialist Network marched along Spring Street, repeatedly performing the Nazi salute.
Related: Victoria to ban Nazi salute after ‘disgusting’ scenes at anti-trans protest
The event prompted the Andrews government to promise to legislate a ban on Nazi salutes and Pesutto to move to expel MP Moira Deeming, who attended the anti-trans rally.
In question time on Tuesday the Labor MP for Macnamara, Josh Burns, asked Dreyfus about the need to “condemn public displays of right-wing extremism and Nazi symbolism”.
Dreyfus replied that the scenes at Victoria’s parliament were “abhorrent” and there was “no place in Australian society for public displays of Nazi symbols or the Nazi salute”.
“These are markers of some of the darkest days in the world’s history, of ghettoes, of deportations and mass murder that touched my own family.
Dreyfus warned that antisemitism is “on the rise in Australia and around the world”.
He praised the Victorian government for its swift response and the premier Daniel Andrews’ condemnation of “a group of cowardly black-clad men who travelled to Melbourne’s CBD seeking notoriety”.
“But what have we had from those opposite – in particular, their leader? Complete silence, Mr Speaker. We all know that bigotry and hatred breed in silence.
“He has failed to condemn the display of the Nazi salute on the steps of the Victorian parliament.
“He has been invisible since the weekend. He has done no media. Why, Mr Speaker? What is so hard about this? Who is the opposition leader afraid of offending here?”
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Many senior members of the Albanese government have condemned the National Socialist Network group who attended the protest, including the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, the government services minister, Bill Shorten, and the minister for women, Katy Gallagher.
Some senior Coalition figures, including former deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, also described it as “offensive”.
After question time, Anthony Albanese made his first public statement against the anti-trans rally, which he described as “really disrespectful of who people are” and the “bunch of people who were essentially doing Nazi salutes and slogans”
“That, of course, should be condemned by all Australians. There is no place in Australia for Nazi salutes, and people basically paying tribute to Nazis, who were responsible for the Holocaust,” he told Nova 100 Radio.
Related: Bid to expel Moira Deeming deepens divide in Victorian Liberal party
Earlier, Dreyfus pointed to comments by the Liberal senator Alex Antic, who said in the Senate on Monday that “Moira did nothing wrong”.
In question time, Deeming was also defended by interjections from Liberal MP Melissa Price who asked “what did she do wrong” and “what for” in response to Dreyfus’ calls for her to be expelled.
Dreyfus said that Deeming is “one of his [Dutton’s] own and he’s been silent and he’s done nothing”.
“This speaks volumes about the leadership qualities of the leader of the opposition, Mr Speaker. And Australians will take note.”
In response, Dutton said that he joined in any “condemnation of any use of Nazi symbols, of the salute, of any glorification of that period of history”.
Dutton said he would support “any legislation … to make illegal in our country the display of any aspect of Nazi glorification” but noted Dreyfus had not introduced any.
“I find the response today to be quite remarkable and over the top,” he said, accusing Dreyfus of trying “to use to political advantage this issue”.
“I have been in this place for 22 years. You can look at my history in every comment that I have made in relation to making sure that we never, ever repeat the mistakes of history, particularly during that period.”
Related: Victoria can deny Nazis a breeding ground with deradicalisation instead of playing whack-a-mole with bans | Simon Copland
Dutton said that slaughter of Jews by Nazis and the mistreatment of people of the Jewish faith is “an abomination”.
“That it would be used for political purposes in this place is a very, very poor reflection on you, if I might say.”
After question time, Dutton claimed to have been misrepresented and added that the accusation levelled by Dreyfus was the “complete opposite of what I’ve practised my entire life”.
Dutton said Dreyfus had engaged in an “egregious breach of standing orders and standards of decency” by accusing him of failing to condemn Nazis.